On September 26, 1956, Miss Rena Alice Travis, who had turned 63 just a few weeks earlier, boarded TWA Flight 937/25 at Rome's brand new Fiumicino International Airport and headed for Geneva, Switzerland, on a journey to visit her mother’s birthplace in Canton Berne. This is the first of Rena’s overseas trips that has surfaced in documents on Ancestry.com, but it was by no means her only international sojourn.
Rena was born in Nemaha County, Kansas, in 1893. In the first decade of the twentieth century, when all of her sisters, were getting married and starting families, Rena experienced the tragic loss of her fiancé to an accidental drowning. In later years, her sister Lissie, my grandmother, explained that Rena had been very much in love with her fiancé and made a vow at the time of his death that she would never marry another man. He had been the love of her life and would always remain so.
In the summer of 1920, Rena, age 26, enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The university catalog, which lists her as an enrollee, does not indicate what course or courses she was taking that summer, but it does list her as a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. There is no indication that Rena was degree-bound at the university, but she was apparently taking courses that would help her advance her life as a single woman.
1925 finds Rena living in Alhambra, Los Angeles County, California, where she continued to live and work as a bookkeeper until she eventually moved into Los Angeles proper until her death in 1972.
Upon her retirement, Rena apparently decided to take advantage of her good health and status as an unmarried woman to travel the world. Rena’s mother, Mary Ann [Maria Anna] Grossnicklaus, had been born in Oberried am Brienzersee, Switzerland, and had immigrated to the United States with her family in 1893 when she was 14 years old. Canton Berne is located in one of the more beautiful areas of the world—the Swiss Alps.
A land of mountains and lakes, where even in July the temperature rarely exceeds 75º Fahrenheit, it would have been a significant contrast to Nemaha County, Kansas, where temperatures regularly climb to the mid-nineties in July and not uncommonly to around 100º. In an era before air conditioning, the contrast would have been stark, and no doubt Rena’s mother would sometimes reflect longingly on the beauties of her Swiss homeland.
It is only logical to conclude that Switzerland, would have been at the top of Rena’s list of places to visit. It is not clear, however, whether Rena actually reached Oberried that year because, on a subsequent trip in 1959, Rena sent a postcard to her sister Lissie (May 23-31, 1959), which states, “We came thru Oberrid, Mother’s birthplace, yesterday. It is a beautiful spot. The flowers are blooming everyplace. Never dreamed this country could be so beautiful.”
Apparently, Rena was not traveling alone in 1959 as her postcard begins, “Our trip is wonderful [emphasis mine].” However, whether she was with friends, family, or a tour group is not clear. On that trip, she took a ship across the Atlantic. Her name is recorded on the passenger manifest of the Queen Mary, which docked in the port of Southampton, England, on May 12 (pictures left and below, right). Rena specified that she would be staying at Charing Cross Hotel (see below, left) and would be in England for four days. Since she did not post her message to Lissie until May 23, at the earliest, she probably spent some time, after crossing the English Channel, traveling by train to Switzerland. She mentions in her postcard message that she “saw Charlene and George and little Jeff in Frankfort,” and though I have not been able to discover who these persons were, it is obvious that Rena's route took her through Germany. After World War II, Frankfort was inside the American Zone of Operation, so it is quite likely that “George” was an American soldier.
One final note on the 1959 trip: the records of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company, Ltd., which owned the Queen Mary, indicate that the ship had come to Southampton from Durban, South Africa. Though Rena boarded the ship in New York, she and her fellow travelers apparently saw more of the world than western Europe!
About Durban, Wikipedia indicates that Durban is the largest city in the South African province of Kwa-Zulu-Natl and the third largest in South Africa behind Johannesburg and Cape Town. Famous for being a busy port, Durban is also seen as “one of the major centres of tourism because of the city’s warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches.” Did Rena spend some time in Durban? It’s an intriguing question.
My personal knowledge of Rena includes the fact that at some time in the early 1960s Rena also visited the Orient. Upon her return, she made a trip to Wichita to visit our family (my father being her nephew) and present us with gifts she had purchased for us on her trip. I received a ring with two pearls: one white, one grey.
The story Rena told was that she had stopped at a restaurant for lunch one day while in Japan. The restaurant’s special attraction was that each diner was able to select an oyster from a barrel, and if it contained a pearl, the lucky visitor was allowed to keep it. That Rena’s had two was truly a bonus. When I received the gift, the two pearls had been mounted on a ring.
I have always presumed that these were cultured pearls and that the mount was not expensive, but it has great sentimental value as it stirred in me an interest in things international, including several overseas trips of my own which have always put me in mind of my forward-looking great-aunt, Rena Alice Travis.